It doesn’t matter if you just blasted through to a new training plateau or you’re winding down from a routine workout, how you recover impacts your personal gains as much as the workout itself. The science is in – you’ve just broken down your muscles and depleted stores of glycogen and nutrients in your body – you need to repair and replace as efficiently as possible to get the most out of your training.
The 30-Minute Window
Immediately following your workout, you have a 30-minute time frame in which your body is best suited to absorbing the nutrients from food and water. There’s no need to over eat but this is a good time to refuel your body with high-protein foods like chicken, eggs, and quinoa as well as restock your glycogen stores and energy levels by eating good, healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and yam.
Hydration is important for everyday health and it’s recommended you consume around 2 to 3 litres of water a day. After a high-intensity workout where you’ve been sweating hard, try to drink approximately 1L per 1000 calories burned. The best thing to do is listen to your body to ensure you’re getting the right amount of water.
Many athletes integrate energy drinks and recovery shakes into their workouts to help keep them energized during their routines and to aid in a faster recovery afterwards. Brands like Biosteel and Gatorade offer sports drinks in the form of crystals that are mixed with water so you can drink it on the go. Drinking this continuously throughout your workout will help stave off dehydration and also replenish electrolytes as you lose them, reducing fatigue and increasing performance.
Best for post-workout, shakes made with recovery powders are designed to restore the glycogen you depleted and help repair and grow your muscles by providing protein, carbohydrates and other ingredients essential to your progress. Having sore muscles is a good thing, it means you’re making progress – but adding advanced recovery formula drinks to your post-workout regimen will reduce the time it takes to recover and help pump up the gains you’re making.
Improve Muscle Recovery with Stretching and Mobility
The best time for static stretching and rolling your muscles out is right after your workout because your body is warm thanks to all that pumping blood. Focus on the main muscles you used during the workout whether you’re using a foam roller, or just stretching it out on a mat. The focus here should be to help increase the range of motion you can achieve and attack any ‘sticky’ muscle groups. If you do have a foam roller, make sure it’s hard enough for you to press deeply into your muscles. You’ll know it’s working if it hurts a bit.
Note: Static stretching when your body is cold can lead to injury. That’s why your routine should look something like this: warm up, stretch, workout, and stretch again. Jogging, jumping rope or doing jumping jacks are good ways of warming up and getting the blood flowing.
Regenerating After Your Workout
If you’ve just spent the last hour or two working hard on one set of muscles in particular, give those muscles 24 hours to fully recover before putting them to the test again. They need time to rebuild and fully develop. If you’re doing a full-body workout where all the major muscle groups are engaged, you should be on a three-day-on, one-day-off cycle. This will give your body enough time to recover while maximizing your performance.
Getting the sleep you need is critical to ensuring your body is receiving the full benefits of your training. If you don’t get eight 8 hours a night, your body will be less efficient and won’t be poised to perform at its peak.
Cold is the Answer
It’s best to cool your muscles down after a workout to help reduce the initial inflammation and aid in a faster recovery. Depending on your tolerance for cold and how hard your workout was, you could try:
- Sitting in an ice bath (12 to 15 degrees Celsius) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes
- Taking a cold shower
- Placing ice packs on the muscles you targeted (Max 20 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 20 minutes on)
Heat can be an effective method for helping your muscles heal in the event of an injury but is less ideal as a post-recovery strategy.